Thursday, October 29, 2009

NMHC Quarterly Apartment Survey: Occupancy Continues to Decline, but Pace Slows

by Bill McBride on 10/29/2009 01:48:00 PM

Note from NMHC: "Market Tightness Index reading above 50 indicates that, on balance, apartment markets around the country are getting tighter; a reading below 50 indicates that market conditions are getting looser; and a reading of 50 indicates that market conditions are unchanged."

So the increase in the index to 31 implies lower occupancy rates and lower rents - "looser" apartment conditions - but at a slower pace of contraction than the previous quarter.

From the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC): Apartment Market Conditions Improving, Bid-Ask Spread Narrowing

Only one index—the one measuring market tightness (vacancies and rent levels)—remained below 50 (index numbers below 50 indicate worsening conditions), but it also showed improvement over the prior quarter, rising from 20 to 31.

“The broad improvements in sales volume and debt and equity financing suggest the transactions market may finally be thawing,” noted NMHC Chief Economist Mark Obrinsky. “Nearly half (45 percent) of respondents indicated that the gap between what sellers are asking for and what buyers are offering—the bid-ask spread—has narrowed.”

“But the economic headwinds remain strong,” Obrinsky added, “as the employment market continues to sag, demand for apartment residences continues to slip. Though this quarter’s Market Tightness Index is improved compared to last quarter, it still indicates higher vacancies and lower rents.”
...
The Market Tightness Index rose from 20 to 31. Nearly half (49 percent) said markets were looser (with higher vacancies and lower rents), while 11 percent said markets were tighter. This was the ninth straight quarter in which the index remained below 50, but the fourth consecutive quarter in which the index measure has risen. For the year, the Market Tightness Index averaged 20, the lowest on record (since 1999).
emphasis added
Apartment Tightness Index
Click on graph for larger image in new window.

This graph shows the quarterly Apartment Tightness Index.

A reading below 50 suggests vacancies are rising. Based on limited historical data, I think this index will lead reported apartment rents by 6 months to 1 year. Or stated another way, rents will probably fall for 6 months to 1 year after this index reaches 50. Right now I expect rents to continue to decline through most of 2010.

This data is for apartment buildings. The data released earlier today from the Census Bureau - showing a record rental vacancy rate - includes all rental units.